December 28, 2016
Theni : Ever since this tea stall owner, well part-owner to start with, from Periyakulam hit the political big time in 2001 when he was picked up by Amma to keep her seat warm till courts cleared her, the roadside tea shop has been the talk of Tamil Nadu.
“O Panneerselvam and me started and did many different businesses and tea stall was the one that was doing very well, given the importance we gave to its taste and quality,” said S Vijayan who now owns another tea stall across the road, a little distance away from where the tea shop now owned by the younger brother of Panneerselvam stands.
Started in 1978, as PV Canteen (Panneerselvam and Vijayan) in Periyakulam town on the high road connecting the town and district headquarters of Theni and then Kerala and its most popular and revered shrine of Sabarimala, the canteen was getting popular. But it was only when OPS, as Panneerselvam begun to be known, launched himself into politics and became the chairman of Peiryakulam town municipality, the shop really picked up greater momentum. It was also then, in 1994 that OPS handed over the shop to his brother, O Raja.
It was then that Vijayan broke off from the partnership and floated his own Relax Canteen, some 500 meters away from this famous tea stall, RV Canteen that was rechristened as R Josie Canteen by the present owner after his daughter, who died in a drowning incident.
With every step OPS climbed on the political platform, the canteen came to be known more by his name, though there is no name board for the shop where the menu is limited – tea, coffee, Boost, Horlicks and milk. For brewing the tea, both the canteens use only high quality 3 Roses brand and the best of milk available locally from their dairy farms.
The tea available is, well, just like any other similarly tasting brew available at almost every roadside kiosk, but what separates this from the other also rans is that “this is where OPS used to sit and talk to customers and serve them.”
Muralidharan P, a 26- year- old student from Thnajavur, was on his way along with his group of people from his colony and stopped at the “mudalamaichar Tea kadai” and took selfies with the shop in the background. His attempt was to capture the photos of MGR and Jayalalithaa that adorn the wall of the canteen along with all his friends in the phone camera held high by a selfie stick.
Groups like these on their pilgrimage to Sabarimala, have been stopping here since OPS became the Chief Minister and now more so after he became a full-fledged chief minister after Jayalalithaa passed away on December 5.
Although everyone in Peiryakulam town and neighboring towns and villages and for that matter many in Tamil Nadu know this shop as owned by OPS and his family, there is nothing to associate them with the shop at present. O Raja is at present the chairman of Periyakulam town municipality, like his brother was before he became the MLA from here till the constituency became a reserved constituency in 2011.
There seems to be a conscious effort not to get into limelight on this account of the tea stall, opined a college lecturer who was sipping tea outside the Relax Canteen. “Tea here is definitely better than at OPS stall, but because of the brand name of a successful politician and also because parking there is easier, that you see more crowds there,” he said.
But, Raja is quick to tone down the “humble beginnings of his periaanna” and said that it was not that his family was poor to begin with. “Ask anyone around here, my father was a financier and a very well to do man. My brother had done different businesses and tea shop was one of them, which we are still running for sentimental reasons,” Raja is quoted as having told the local media channels.
“They must be running scared that if they or their shop get into more limelight, someone in the party may not like it,” quipped another regular at the Relax Canteen.
Whether OPS, Raja and their family like it or not. The tea stall for sure is scoring high on the popularity charts, going by the loads of pilgrims on their way stopping for a cuppa at the shop. Of course, locals too have been frequenting the shop for the past 40 years and more.
Business is thriving with the shop netting some Rs 5000 to 8000 per day and on a good day going up to Rs 10000 to Rs 15,000, according to rough estimates.
Politics, of course, is a popular subject of discussion over a cup of tea or coffee, but the clientele of the OPS Tea Kadai including people cutting across political lines.